SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) –One population is seeing the highest vaccination rates in the state and where it is, might surprise you. As of this week, the New Mexico Department of Corrections is reporting close to 90% of the inmate population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

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“The congregate setting puts the inmates in a more vulnerable position,” explains Wence Asonganyi, the Health services administrator for the New Mexico Corrections Department.

That’s why he went to state health officials to make sure prison facilities would get enough of the vaccine. “I was lucky that the department of health understood this and collaborated with us so we did not have any problems in terms of supplies,” Asonganyi said.

Health services then came up with a plan to administer vaccines to staff and inmates. Education played a big role. 

“They have the peer education program and I was fortunate enough to actually personally attend one of those virtual meetings where the sites had the opportunity to ask me any questions they had,” says Ansonganyi. 

Soon enough, inmates began spreading the word about the vaccine too. “We had inmates coming up with posters, inmates themselves developing posters to encourage other inmates.

Vaccination clinics were held at the facilities and employees made sure they could get the vaccine to as many inmates who wanted it. 

“If it was not a clinic day and an inmate said they wanted a vaccine, we were that flexible because we realized that if we missed the opportunity maybe by the next day they might hear some rumor and change their mind,” Asonganyi said. 

When the demand went down for vaccinations, a new plan was created to talk with unvaccinated inmates about getting their COVID-19 shots. “I personally with some professional staff, visited each facility, spoke to them unit by unit. If it meant taking time to address an individual’s question, we did that,” Asonganyi said.

At this time, Asonganyi says there are no active COVID cases in state prisons and they want to keep it that way. The department also finalized its lists of employees that are vaccinated and unvaccinated. Under the governor’s new order, unvaccinated staff members will undergo weekly COVID testing.